“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” – Rod Serling

The words ‘Fantasy Fiction’, more often than not, evoke images of faraway 14th Century (or earlier) kingdoms. Misty lands of green shires, towering castles, fire-breathing dragons, unicorns, orcs and busty wenches in chainmail bras. These images become even more powerful when played out in the mind in a Pen & Paper Role-Playing Game (for more on role-playing games, please check out https://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/06/10/the-psychology-of-role-playing-games-and-the-crazy-folks-who-play-them/ and https://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/01/19/racism-in-role-playing/).

We are attracted to fantasy fiction and role-playing games because role-playing adventure, imagining yourself the hero in a great fantasy story and storytelling are crucial, formative experiences that are as real and memorable as any heroic feats on the bidding floor, basketball court or football field.

In a fantasy role-playing game, you conquer dragons, grow in power and save the day.

Once an event has passed into memory, it’s the feeling of accomplishment, reward, mutual achievement and victory that lingers. Why or how you feel these feelings is irrelevant. The triggering event no longer matters. What remains is how that memory resonates and the lessons that stay with us – how to strategize and think on your feet; how to use your imagination to solve problems; how to be part of something bigger than yourself.

Real or “true” stories that occur in non-fiction may sometimes be interesting, but in many cases, the plot is “alien” to our mind and we do not get any learning experience from it because we cannot relate to it.

Non-fiction  informs without enriching, whereas fantasy stories have basic themes and plots that express deep experiences, problems, and challenges we all face in our growth and development.

The role of the unconscious in our development and the notion of an unconscious that is formed by our inherited experiences embodied in the images of art, suggests something further about why reading matters so much to us and about how it influences us. Our identity – the way we perceive ourselves and relate to the world – can be shaped through the fantasy literature we read.

Engaging in the simulative experiences of fantasy literature can facilitate the understanding of others who are different from ourselves and can augment our capacity for empathy and social inference.

As we become immersed in the lives of the characters in fantasy stories, we develop para-social relationships with those characters and have strong emotional responses to the stories.

These responses suggest that frequent readers of fiction will improve their social skills through reading, an idea contrary to the common “bookworm” stereotype, which portrays “bookworms” as lonely, shy, depressed and friendless. However, studies suggest that the more fiction a person reads, the better socially adapted they are.

Fantasy – and its subgenres – allows the author to explore aspects of the world around the reader and its problems, thus offering the reader an experience of intellectual as well as emotional adventure. Fantasy books provide the opportunity for us to connect to – and sympathize with – our heroes and heroines.

Sub-Genres of Fantasy

Contemporary Fantasy

Stories set in the “real world” in contemporary times, in which, it is revealed, magic and magical creatures secretly exist, either living in the interstices of our world or leaking over from alternate worlds. Fantasy stories in which magic is not a secret kept from the masses does not fit into this sub-genre.

Dark Fantasy                                                      

Stories that focus on elements usually found in the horror genre but which take place in a sword and sorcery or high fantasy setting. Dark fantasy is occasionally used as a synonym for supernatural horror, to distinguish horror stories that contain elements of the supernatural from those that do not. For example, a story about a werewolf or demi-lich could be described as dark fantasy, while a story about a serial killer who eats his victims would simply be horror.

Heroic Fantasy

Heroic fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy literature which chronicles the tales of heroes and their conquests in imaginary lands. Stories tend to be intricate in plot, often involving many peoples, nations and lands. Grand battles and the fate of the world are common themes, and there is typically some emphasis on a universal conflict between good and evil.

High Fantasy

The term high fantasy (also epic fantasy) generally refers to fantasy that depicts an epic struggle between good and evil. The world in high fantasy is usually set in an alternative, entirely fictional (“secondary”) world, rather than the real, or “primary” world.

Low Fantasy

Low Fantasy stresses realistic themes in a fantasy setting. It sometimes refers to stories that don’t emphasise magic overtly, or stories that contain a cynical world view. The effect of the fantastic infringing on real life in low fantasy fiction is usually either humorous or horrific – a supernatural onslaught against reason; or comedic or nonsensical plots that can result from the introduction of fantastic features.

Magical Realism

Magical Realism presents fantastic and mundane elements side-by-side as if there is no conflict between the two. Magical elements blend with the real world and the story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought.

Superhero Fantasy

The Superhero Fantasy has, at its heart, characters with super powers and / or unusual abilities. The heroes and villains are very much like those you would find in a comic book, they just exist in a fantasy setting.

Sword and Sorcery

These types of stories usually include (with a few notable exceptions) sword-play, magic, and a medieval setting. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters.

Sword and Soul

Sword and Soul  – like Sword and Sorcery – includes sword-play and magic. The adventures, however, are usually set in non-medieval, non-Eurocentric settings and the main characters are of African-descent. These stories are usually more spiritual than Sword and Sorcery and are more diverse in their styles of storytelling.

Now, do people of African descent – i.e. Black folks – read fantasy stories? Well this person of African descent does and so do my close friends, my siblings and my children. The Black people I know who do not read fantasy fiction certainly watch it, with Game of Thrones and period martial arts movies, like Hero and Kung-Fu Hustle being favorites and said they would read fantasy if the books had Black heroes.

Why do the same people who watch fantasy movies and television shows that feature few, if any, Black people – and none as the hero – refuse to read fantasy stories unless the hero is Black? Because a book – and often even a story – requires a greater investment of time, contemplation and emotions than a film or television show.

If you are going to invest so much of yourself, you have to relate to the character and Black people have grown weary of seeing themselves as the sidekick, noble savage, or the guy-who-dies-by-page-thirty-five. We do not relate to that and after years of such treatment in fantasy novels, we no longer trust those novels to show us in a positive light.

Now how, unless at some point we read those novels, would we know we receive such treatment in fantasy? So, Black folks do – or rather, did – read fantasy…and will again…

When we get it right.

Several authors – yours truly included – are getting it right. We write fantasy with Black protagonists – heroes who look like us. A few of these authors and their novels include:

Milton J. Davis

  • Meji, Book 1 & Meji, Book 2 – Sword & Soul
  • Changa’s Safari, Books 1, 2 and 3 – Sword & Soul
  • Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology (Editor / Publisher; Contributing Author)– Sword & Soul
  • Sword and Soul Adventures – Sword & Soul (Graphic Novel)

Valjeanne Jeffers

  • Immortal, Books 1 – 4 – Dark Fantasy

L.M. Davis

  • Interlopers – YA Contemporary Fantasy
  • Posers – YA Contemporary Fantasy

Wendy Raven McNair

  • Asleep – YA Superhero Fantasy
  • Awake – YA Superhero Fantasy

Balogun Ojetade

Charles R. Saunders (the father of Sword & Soul)

  • Imaro, Books 1 – 4 – Sword & Soul
  • Dossouye, Books 1 & 2 – Sword & Soul

Recently, author Milton Davis, who is also the owner of MVmedia, which publishes his own works, as well as the works of others – including my novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika – was accused of being a racist because, in oursubmission guidelines for the bestselling Steamfunk anthology, we sought stories with main characters of Afrikan descent. In Davis’ Griots and Griots II: Sisters of the Spear, this was also a requirement for submission.

Other authors came forward and blasted the accuser, showing how ignorant it is to accuse someone of racism because they desire to see someone that looks like themselves – someone long erased from fantasy stories – in the stories they read and invest their money into publishing.

When I told Milton of the accusation, he simply said “Then, I must be getting it right.”

Yep, Milton, you are.

For great short stories in the fantasy genre, check out Ki Khanga: The Anthology.


About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at https://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/blackspeculativefiction.

32 responses »

  1. Milton says:

    When I decided to write speculative fiction about and for people of color, I thought long and hard about the ramifications of my decision. I’d studied the publishing industry for a long time, and as an African American that often found himself the only person of color at a company or one of a few, I knew that what I was about to do would be interpreted in a negative way by those who felt threatened by it. In the end I decided it was more important for me to follow my passion than to cower to others fears and misguided expectations of what a writer of color could or should do. For the most part the response over my four years of writing and self publishing has been a very positive experience. Most people, black and otherwise, get it. For those who don’t, I hope that discussion like those that occurred yesterday continue to occur so to give us all the opportunity to realize that everyone wants to see themselves in a positive light, and that when I raise myself up I’m not putting you down. We also need to realize that sometimes in order to spark inclusiveness, we have to sometimes be exclusive in order to make sure that those who haven’t had the opportunity to express themselves get that opportunity. I’m thankful for the writers who took the time to express themselves as spread more understanding. I hope we all continue to ‘get it right.’

  2. Ronald T. Jones says:

    Who was this Ferengi who accused Milton of being a racist? Of all the absurdities. I wonder if this Borg drone has ever criticized white fantasy or sci fi authors for making their casts of characters overwhelmingly white. Hmmm….

    • Balogun says:

      I won’t name names simply because I don’t want to give the insolent whelp any notoriety. Of course he has never done that. In his mind, white, male heroes are the norm. He cannot fathom what it means to be told his book would sell if he changed the protagonist’s race to a more favorable one. So, for Milton to dare want to see a Black person as the hero must be racism. Silly fella, he is.

    • goldenboy62 says:

      I guess he would have also accused the late Marion Zimmer Bradley of being feminist because when she was editing Sword and Sorceress the stories had to have a female protagonist.

      I’ve noticed that there is a new type of troll, that always pops up on boards when ever blacks and other races (but mostly blacks) try to empower themselves. It’s weird that when we respectfully say we’d like more stories when we get to be the protagonist you’ll hear whites comment, “Why can’t we all be colorblind? It’s people like you who keep the racial thing going.” Then when you start to list the small number of films that have blacks in them you’ll get the comment, “But your population is only 16% so that about right.”

      Wait a minute! if we’re supposed to be all colorblind, what do population statistics have to do with anything when we’re talking about entertainment?

  3. Great post. I don’t always have exctly these same distinctions as to types but I see where you are coming from. Have the fun is debating them as well. 🙂

  4. Michael says:

    Political correctness has gone too far, making our world a realm of eggshells. If the story collections in question did not allow white people to read the published material, then there’s something to complain about. But because the material in question is under-represented, come on, lets get them in places where one can conveniently find them instead of having to nit-pick amongst the overwhelming tsunami of yarns that do not possess all the tropes in question. I’ll bet there’d be no qualms if there was a periodical that accepted red-haired protagonists only. The last place anyone should focus racism is at the imagined worlds where racial conflict is often most rife anyway, which is 99% of them. Be it Orcs hating and eating Hobbits, Humans happy to send that said race of Orcs to the brink of extinction, or whatever. Using Orcs one last time here, there are one or two fantasy writers who have written everything from the point of view of the orc, where orcs are the heroes, and if those works were bundled into an Orc Omnibus, Imagine how all the humans would feel! Oh hang on, I don’t think any would give a damn, because Orcs being cool does not mean anyone else is not.

  5. […] science fiction and fantasy present things that do not exist. All fiction does this, of course. That’s what makes it fiction. […]

  6. […] love reading and writing Fantasy. I really do. But I am growing increasingly disgusted by the racism and sexism within it. I can no […]

  7. […] our first installment of the Do Black People Really Read This Stuff Series, we explored Fantasy Fiction. This time, we examine Science Fiction and the Black […]

  8. Excellent post Brother Balogun! I agree with those who’ve said it’s utterly ridiculous to accuse Milton (or publishers like him) of racism! He didn’t say “no white authors need apply” only that the characters had to be of African descent. I also agree with Brother Milton: when you’re being attacked, you’re getting it right.

    FYI: thanks for the props — I love see my novels on your Blacktastic blog! 🙂

  9. […] Fantasy” is an umbrella term I use for the Fantasy subgenres of High Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy / Sword & Sorcery and Sword & Soul. If you ever see a book […]

  10. […] Fantasy is perfect for Black people. Conscious, or otherwise. […]

  11. lkeke35 says:

    Thank You and Amen!

    I stumbled on this website while looking up Black People in Fantasy books. I’m so glad you wrote this and that this is an attitude that’s gradually starting to change and by that I mean the attitude on the part of PoC.

    When I was growing up I was vilified for my taste in film and books which most often consisted of fantasy and horror and it was only black people doing the vilifying. It’s great to see Black people less judgmental of something that gave me so much pleasure growing up. I just wish I had encountered this thinking when I was younger. As it stands, I had a very lonely childhood because so many Black people couldn’t see beyond my tastes in reading, music and film and decided to treat me with contempt.

    I loved Man With The Iron Fist. I grew up watching Kung Fu movies too so it was a real treat for me. And also a real treat to see Af-Am branching out of just telling our own personal stories over and over again. It’s great t o see more diversity in fantasy novels, outside of the Tolkien template most people seem to follow.

    While I have nothing against Medieval style Fantasy, there are quite a lot of writers out there that seem to forget in the midst of their elf-world building that there were quite a number of brown-skinned people wandering about Europe at the times their novels are set.I was never going to depend on White people to be more diverse in their creations, but it’s nice to see some of them trying anyway.

    I like Maurice Broaddus and Orson Scott Card and Ben Aronovitch, I have no idea what race or culture these writers are from but they are at least thinking about adding Black men to the dialogue, as they have been missing for some time and I missed them. There is something to be said for a BAMF in a Fantasy novel who just happens to be Black.

    My great desire is to see more Maurice Broaddusses out there. I just love that marriage of gritty urban noir with just enough fantasy added. And I will be giving your rec’s and all of these posters a look-see at the first opp.

    • Balogun says:

      Though what you went through as a child is terrible, I do not think it is indicative of the norm. While many Black people I know were not into science fiction, fantasy and role-playing games when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was never vilified, shunned, or mistreated and I had as many Black friends into fantasy, science fiction and comic books as I had friends who were not (and I had a lot of friends). The only complaint I ever heard was “I don’t read that stuff because there aren’t any Black people in it.” A sentiment I understood and was determined to one day rectify. I am quite happy that through the work of several authors, this sentiment can finally change.
      Thanks, so much, for your feedback and for your support! 🙂

    • chcltroses says:

      I also grew up wondering where the black fantasy? sci fi characters were? I have always written my characters like me, african american and female. I can only write from what i know, as far as race and sex. Even now the shows i watch still dont have enough brown for me, but one day i hope to see more of us in books and on tv.

  12. lkeke35 says:

    To address one of your earlier points: I never had a problem with shyness or being sociable. I had friends. They were all White. (They were the only ones I could make because other blacks shunned me for being a nerd) I was more than willing to talk about my interests to anyone and everyone I met if I hadn’t met with so much scorn for it.

  13. […] to be original in their work. In earlier posts, I discussed how Black people love science fiction and fantasy; and, obviously, we love street lit. Thus, it had to happen – street lit / science fiction  and […]

  14. […] Milton is an active historian and educator on the topics of Steamfunk and Sword and Soul. […]

  15. […] This one elicits a sigh when I see it. Obviously they do, or there wouldn’t be POC authors struggling to get recognition. There wouldn’t be people like me writing this blog. All this question, or its variants, shows is that the writer has a very limited idea of who is reading, gaming, and interacting with modern SF&F. [8] […]

  16. […] Do Black People Really Read This Stuff? High Fantasy, Low Fantasy & A “Racist” Publisher nam… – A quick overview of the different sub-genres of fantasy and some thoughts about representations of black characters in them. […]

  17. […] was then that I committed to writing Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror fiction that told stories about Black […]

  18. […] a problem that has been cited time and time again, and it is no one specific privilege. It is multiple privileges – white, male, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s